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A history of metaphors for the internet

Illustration by Hugo Herrera for The Verge

When I wrote about this web surfing competition, it got me thinking about different metaphors for the internet. Surfing seemed like an odd one, an artifact from a very particular time in the mid-1990s when people used terms like “information superhighway” and “cyberspace” unironically. Where did these metaphors come from, and where did they go? Have any persisted, and have new ones taken their place?

The more I read, the more it seemed that these old metaphors hadn’t died out at all, though their meanings had changed. No one says “information superhighway” anymore, but whenever anyone explains net neutrality, they do so in terms of fast lanes and tolls. Twitter is a “town square,” a metaphor that was once used for the internet as a…

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